Film Review: Apollo 11

Fly me to the Moon

It was recently announced by NASA that space tourism has come one small step closer for man in that for a lucky couple of ‘regular’ souls a year, who happened to have a spare few hundred thousand dollars (it’s £27,500 per night) in their savings account would get the opportunity to live in orbit around Earth in the International Space Station from 2020. I’m sure there might be a few other caveats too, such as health etc and ability to endure the take off that will get you through the celestial ropes to be greeted by the maître d’space.

If I had the money, I would have signed up IMMEDIATELY! 
But the crash land reality is that I don’t and probably never will, so thankfully in the mean time we have the genuinely STUNNING documentary ‘Apollo 11’ (2019) directed by Todd Douglas Miller, that for the first time ever, literally allows us to jump into the cockpit and fly to the Moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Micahel Collins.

The approach to the doc is startlingly simple, yet understandably epic at the same time. Everything that we have ever seen about the mission to land the first men on the Moon has been around ever since the mission happened, we have seen the images hundreds if not thousands of times before and the don’t hold sincere power relative to what they represent. The incredible thing about ‘Apollo 11’ is that none of this footage has ever been shown before, and it is a true revelation, almost beyond comprehension. It retrieves all the intensity and euphoria of what has been one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

Todd and his seriously talented team spent years gathering footage, film tapes, video tapes and broadcasts from anywhere and everywhere. Granted access to the NASA extensive archive library to unlock and dust off some of the most stunning images, moments and commentaries I have ever seen/heard.

There is clearly such a deep profound respect in every single frame for the tale that they are telling, that it effectively takes you back to the very day of the launch, and for all intents and purposes, you become part of the crew. 
To facilitate and maintain this early days Holodeck (Star Trek reference), the creators skilfully decided to have no voice overs as would be the norm in such films. With thousands of variously sourced images and voice broadcasts, they meticulously wove together the actual timeline of pre-launch build-up and preparation, launch, the mission, landing and the return using the images and voices of everyone that actually made the event a success. It’s happening before your very eyes, as it happened.
Beautifully edited, presented and heart racingly gorgeous (they developed a new process to scan all the footage tape to digitise and clean it all up), with pulse racing new score, it is a seamless blend of 50 years ago and the optic qualities of a modern broadcast. It effectively looks like the event happened this morning and it was shot with a 4K+ camera. The only distraction during the screening I went to was the regular crack of my jaw hitting the floor.

Despite the mind-melting levels of difficulty, maths, belief and desire of every single person that was involved in the mission, what is strikingly apparent is the sheer united and universal humanity of it all. It is one nation that is steering it, but it’s a global, historical event. Hearing the actual words of the people at mission control talking to the three astronauts as if they are on the phone down the road, rather than hurtling along at 20, 000 miles per hour in space, with jokes being cracked on both sides of the atmosphere is heartwarmingly beautiful and normal, in a truly extraordinary moment.

Then we get to see the footage of the landing itself from entirely new perspectives, whilst Collins becomes the most isolated man ever, as he orbits the Moon, it is achingly poignant, but yet again, powerfully stirring.
Moment after moment glides by that effectively presents the entire 50 year old mission (the anniversary is in July) in an entirely new way. You may think you’ve seen this all before, but you truly haven’t.

It’s one of the most skillfully and lovingly produced pieces of film I have ever seen. With sincere respect for every single individual involved, which is tens of thousands of people, probably millions. It may have been three individuals who won the lottery on that day, but the astronauts make it strikingly clear in a very wonderful final broadcast before their reentry to home, that they couldn’t have done it without all these folk who worked together for years to pull it off. In a world where division and anger are promoted 24/7, this film goes way beyond a trip to the Moon, and actually delves into what it truly is to be human, and despite it being about the past, it is strikingly about our very futures as a species.

This film deserves like nothing I’ve seen before to be seen on the biggest screen possible, hopefully, it gets an annual release on IMAX, and in between those screenings. I will happily watch the Blu-ray on a weekly basis. 

‘Apollo 11’ is cinemas out now, including IMAX for a limited run.